My husband Tom leaned over and kissed me goodbye.
‘I’m just leaving to get the train,’ he whispered, as our son, Theo, lay pressed up against me, sleeping. ‘I’ll be back late tomorrow.’
Hearing the front door close as he left for his work trip, I closed my eyes and smiled.
I hadn’t even got up, but I was already excited to get Theo, five, and his sister, Immy, three, to bed that evening, then have an early night myself, accompanied only by a cup of tea and a book.
Our king-size bed was going to be all mine – for a few hours, anyway – and I was finally going to be able to relax and enjoy having some physical space to myself.
As any mum will tell you, that rarely happens. And since becoming a parent and regularly feeling ‘touched out’, it’s something I’ve begun to both crave – and appreciate.
Before I met Tom and had my children, I’d never even heard of the phrase ‘touched out’.
Yet it’s something a lot of parents, mums in particular, will go through – and, most likely, feel guilty about. I certainly did, and, sometimes, still do.
For those of you not in the know, being ‘touched out’ is when, after allowing your body to be readily available to your children for days, weeks, months on end, you begin to feel irritated, panicked and even repelled by the idea of any more physical contact.
Previously, I never considered the importance of having my own physical space – beyond being cramped uncomfortably close to other commuters on the train.
Even when I fell pregnant, the thought of being ‘touched out’ never crossed my mind.
Instead, I imagined cradling my baby, sniffing that gorgeous, newborn smell and staring in wonder at the beautiful little human that I had helped create.
And believe me, I did. For hours on end. I loved the feel of Theo’s tiny weight in my arms, as I’d sing him songs, read him books or nurse him as he was drifting off to sleep.
Yet, after putting him down to nap, or sharing cuddle-time with Tom when he got in from work, I still had plenty of time – and, crucially, space – of my own.
It was when I had Immy that I started experiencing a whole new phenomenon.
I remember sitting on the sofa with the 12 week old Immy on my knee as I fed her a bottle of milk, with Theo pressed up beside me as he played with some toys.
I suddenly felt penned in – claustrophobic. I shifted my weight, trying to nudge him away ever so slightly but instead, he snuggled further into my side. Unable to move at all, the cuddle which I was just minutes ago enjoying, suddenly felt stifling, suffocating.
As soon as Immy had finished feeding, I used the excuse to stand up, put her down and walk away. Just as I was getting my breath back, Tom walked in from work.
He instantly came over and put his arms around me, the way he always did. Before I could stop myself, I took a step back and avoided his embrace. It was the first time I’d ever rejected physical affection from him and he was puzzled.
The uncomfortable feeling was impossible to explain, to myself and certainly not to anyone else.
I just knew I couldn’t have anyone else’s hands on me. Instead, I went to have a shower to think about how I was feeling.
The guilt was almost overwhelming. I had everything – a gorgeous husband who would do anything for me and two happy, healthy babies. Why on earth was the touch of my loved ones suddenly so off-putting?
It was only through the help of the internet (isn’t it always?) that I discovered this wasn’t just me. Being ‘touched out’ was a real thing.
Whenever I’d heard women talk about giving birth and ‘getting your body back’, it had always been about being able to eat and drink what you want, to wear clothes that haven’t fit for months – to physically not have another person growing inside you.
It seems no-one mentions that you don’t actually get your body back. Not really. Even if you don’t breastfeed, you’re often holding or carrying a baby. There is always someone in your personal space.
Having spoken to friends and family, everyone has different experiences of the phenomenon – some women don’t feel it at all, others go through it with just one child.
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For me, it took having Immy and feeling like I was constantly in physical contact with at least one of my children at any one time that it really hit me.
And it wasn’t just a one-off experience. From then, I noticed by the end of the day, I was ready to go for a walk, have a shower, or even just sit on the sofa alone.
I felt silly, trying to explain it to Tom, but opening up helped. Although he hadn’t experienced it himself and therefore couldn’t quite understand exactly how I was feeling, he was extremely supportive.
I decided to start using the creche at our local gym and going for a run on weekends with my friends.
Just having that half an hour to myself, being physically apart from my children and moving my body as I pleased, felt freeing. Like I could breathe easy again.
And, as Theo and Immy learnt to crawl, then walk and were less physically dependent on me, the problem sorted itself out. Like most parenthood complications, it was transient.
Nowadays, when the children spend most of their time playing on the floor or running around in the park, I can truly appreciate their cuddles.
However, when Theo crawls in with us in the middle of the night and throws himself against me, or reaches out to touch my face for the millionth time, I still get that urge to wiggle away or push his hand aside.
And I will never take for granted having a bed to myself again.
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